Live and let live | Sunday Observer

Live and let live

Suicide is desperate. It is hostile. It is tragic. But mostly, it is a bloody mess.

This was a headline I recently saw in a foreign newspaper in relation to the recent spate of celebrity suicides. Fashion designer Kate Spade (55) and TV chef and CNN travel presenter Anthony Bourdain (61, who has filmed a couple of his shows in Sri Lanka) both took their lives within three days of each other. Both deaths sent shockwaves around the world, mainly because they were well-known celebrities who were at the top of their respective professions.

There was no outward indication that they had any problems in their personal or professional life. This is why it is difficult to fathom any reason for their decision to take their own lives.

Suicide is apparently so widespread that TV networks even have a new term – death by suicide. In Sri Lanka, which once topped world rankings for suicide (in relation to the total population), not a day goes by without coming across a TV news report on a suicide somewhere in the island. There is also a tendency for group suicide, where a mother or father commits suicide along with their children or two young people commit suicide together.

Suicidal person

But, a celebrity suicide is different in the sense that it gains even more publicity. At the same time, their deaths remind many of us about friends and loved ones who we have lost to suicide. But, the saddest fact about suicide is that it is preventable if help is sought either by the suicidal person or those close to him or her. The latter option may not always be possible because some may not exhibit any sign of depression or other behavioural changes ahead of their decision to commit suicide.


According to statistics on suicide, for every one person who dies by suicide, there are about 280 others who think seriously about suicide but do not kill themselves. Help is readily available and only a phone call away for those contemplating suicide, which is actually a sin in most religions. In Sri Lanka, there are institutions such as, Sumithrayo which have been dealing with people having suicidal tendencies for decades. Only a few people go on to commit suicide even after counseling.

Celebrity suicides can have a ripple effect in that some may try to emulate their method of suicide. Some youngsters may get the idea that it is the “in” thing to do. It has been shown that certain types of reporting on suicide can aggravate suicidal thoughts and behaviour, and are related to subsequent increases in suicide.

In a study which appeared in the September 2017 edition of the Journal, Social Science and Medicine, researchers in Japan reported an increase in suicides after a celebrity suicide, particularly, when the celebrity’s death was heavily posted on Twitter. The report noted that at-risk individuals often see the media reports of these deaths as making suicide more acceptable, particularly, if these individuals saw the deceased as role models.

On the other hand, another team of researchers from Austria found that suicide rates are reduced following periods when people have been exposed to published accounts of persons coping positively through suicidal moments. This is food for thought for our media networks and institutions, some of which publish gory, step-by-step details and photographs of methods of suicide in contravention of journalistic ethics and codes. This just might send the wrong message to a person contemplating suicide. The publication of any details must be measured against the impact it would cause among the general population. In fact, some countries such as Norway, have long restricted the mention of “suicide” in media coverage of such deaths and rarely include details of how these deaths occurred.

Emotional pain

According to the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “suicidal experiences are about overwhelming emotional pain where one feels trapped, alone and hopeless. It is not their life that they wish to extinguish; it is this pain they want to kill”.

In most cases, if one helps to extinguish that pain or the root cause of that pain, the suicidal tendencies go away. One expert has commented that suicidal thoughts are a sign that perhaps, it is not your life that needs to end, but the way that you are living your life that needs to end.

Suicide may not be a mental disorder per se, but some scientists believe it could be the result of abnormalities in the brain brought about by extreme conditions and stress. One can be rich and successful like Kate Spade or poor and desperate like many individuals who see no way out of life’s troubles and financial burdens. Indeed, like many other medical conditions, suicide does not discriminate.

If you think someone you know or is close to you could be having emotional problems that may lead to suicide, you can refer them for counseling and if needed, psychiatric help.

But, the best way out of any such thoughts is to make friends with yourself and be nicer to yourself. Others may not be able to help you if you do not want or like to help yourself. Low self esteem can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts. So learn to think positively about yourself at all times and engage in an activity that makes you happy, no matter what situation you are in. There is no need to despair – remember, there are people having worse problems than you.


Excessive commercialism has been blamed for many having suicidal tendencies. Indeed, Spade and Bourdain were two of the most well known people on the planet whose very businesses were subject to a torrent of commercialism 24/7. People have been moving away from moral and religious values as they chase money.

This lack of spirituality could be a reason for most people being unable to cope with the pressures of modern life. People should renew their bond with places of worship and seek counsel from religious dignitaries for life’s little problems. This would perhaps efface any negative feelings within one’s mind.

But, are there instances when suicide is acceptable? Only a few countries allow ‘assisted suicide’ or euthanasia, but strictly for conscious but terminally ill patients who can make that choice on their own.

In countries such as Switzerland, where there are euthanasia clinics, assisted suicide is accepted. Celebrated Australian scientist David Goodall (104) recently ended his life at such a clinic. Five U.S. states and the District of Columbia have “Death With Dignity” laws that allow assisted suicide in cases of terminal illness. In all other cases, suicide should strictly be off limits. Death does not solve any problem – only living does.